The Fundamentals

The 3 C's of Speaking

There are three things a speaker can never have too much of: Courage, Connection, and Clarity. First in composition, and then in delivery, experienced presenters combine these elements to make their message vivid and unforgettable. Let’s look at each individually.


Think about your three favorite stand-up comics -- how different they are from each other: different gestures, pacing, vocal and physical styles, ways of interacting with their audience. They’re all funny, but each in their own way. They developed their comic persona by becoming braver, more confident versions of themselves. Same goes for speakers. There’s no one perfect style. That’s why as coaches we encourage speakers to share themselves more generously, daring to show more sides of their personality.


Being generic may feel safer, but it also leaves you feeling artificial and disconnected from your audience. Alternatively, the more distinctive you are, the more human you seem. 


And those quirks in your delivery, those idiosyncratic turns of phrase that come to you naturally, don’t just make you more engaging; they make you more persuasive. That’s right. Aristotle was probably not the first to notice that we’re only moved by speakers whom we trust. And no one trusts a robot.


In short: Be your braver self.


A bad presentation can always be reduced to this: the presenter lost the audience. Maybe it was the writing -- a lack of relevance, vitality, or clarity; maybe it was the delivery -- a failure to listen, connect, or adjust to the evolving situation. Regardless of the cause, if you lose your audience, that’s on you. 


But if you connect, that’s on you too. Connecting means you wrote with the audience in mind; you considered their familiarity with the material, their values, their desires. It means you spoke in a way that made them feel noticed, like their presence had an impact.


Our training is primarily designed to increase interactivity with the audience. You’ll see it everywhere in these pages -- in our focus on “tuning,” on the “Listening Loop,” on call and response games, and in peer coaching itself, which is a kind of audience response.


Because in the end, as communications consultant Peter Meyers says, “It’s not about you. It’s all about them.”


In short: It’s always about the audience.


We can’t make an audience pay attention; we have to earn it. Like songwriters, storytellers, and screenwriters, we have to hook ‘em, hold ‘em, and pay ‘em off for their efforts at the end. That’s why we look to the arts of drama and rhetoric. When it comes to commanding attention, the ancient playwrights and philosophers were just as savvy today’s showrunners and clickbait creators.


Aristotle told his students there are two ways to lose your audience: obscurity and obviousness. We either confuse them or we bore them. The cure for both is vividness: A vivid idea, vividly expressed.


Clarity requires having a point. A sharp one, with a hook, for reeling them in.


In short: Attention must be earned . . . continuously. 

The 5 Canons of Coaching

Let’s face it: a 50-minute coaching session is not going to make someone a master orator. But it might shrink their anxiety a bit, or give them a jolt of confidence. It might send them off with a new speechwriting tool, or delivery technique. It might give them a taste of what it’s like to listen to an audience, and feel supported by one. 

In other words, even a single coaching session has the potential to change someone’s relationship to public speaking. That is our mission, and here are the principles that guide

that work.

First, do no harm.

If we had an Oratory Coach’s Oath, it would start with “First, do no harm.” Public speaking is public intimacy, which means the potential for hurt feelings, or even lasting injury, is always present. When in doubt, remember: you can always just say, “Let’s try that again.”

Start with the body.

To make our coaching stick, we get people on their feet right away. We want participants to develop the feel of speaking courageously -- and that can’t happen sitting, taking notes. Later, when we’re coaching individual speakers, a physical challenge can be a short-cut to the most effective change.

Offer direction, not correction.

You might think our job is to help people recognize their speaking problems and fix them. But focusing on what’s wrong can easily backfire, and rarely leads to a breakout performance. So we try to work like theatre directors, helping performers focus on what they are trying to do. That’s where the magic is.

It's all about them.

Let’s practice what we teach. If we want speakers to focus on their audience, we better do the same in our coaching. We’ll need some patience with ourselves, though. Setting aside our ego is the work of a lifetime. Why not get started now?

Say less.

Why are we so picky about words? Because working memory, which is already limited, shrinks even more under performance pressure. And think about the poor speakers -- trying to comprehend our directions, fearing that in a moment they’ll be standing in front of friends getting it wrong. So to reduce stress, we say less. We give their brains a break, and let ‘em process.